New Delhi,Soumonty Kanungo: Jan Aushadhi stores are going to be back. To begin with, it will be relaunched in six states on a pilot basis. The scheme, first launched in 2008, was meant to make medicines affordable to all.
Though noble, the scheme did not really take off well – with only 98 stores out of the 178 functional now. The plan now is to open around 5,000 low-cost medical stores across the country in a phased manner.
The pilot scheme will be launched in a new format from June 21. It will be extended to the rest of the country in three years, covering all therapeutic areas, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Chemicals and Fertilisers, headed by Anand Rao Adsul, said in a recent presentation in the Lok Sabha.
In one year, the Jan Aushadhi stores are expected to be opened in all medical colleges and district hospitals in the country.
“When launched in 2008, the idea was to have at least one Jan Aushadhi store in every district. Unfortunately, that did not happen. We are now looking to relaunch the scheme at the district and block levels. We can then have at least 5,000 stores selling at least 491 essential medicines,” Adsul told dna.
He said that the government may also look at offering free medicines as is being done in Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
“I have suggested that states can procure medicines at a price equivalent to the cost of production and can offer them free of cost to patients. A few states are already doing that. If they can, why can’t others?” he said.
The committee, however, is surprised that the National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM) does not contain all medicines it should. All medicines, including life-saving drugs, should be made available in the market at an affordable cost, it feels.
“The committee, therefore, recommended that the scope of price control needs to be enlarged to make all drugs available, especially life-saving ones, in all parts of the country, and the government should expedite the process of notifying the ceiling prices of the remaining medicines,” the committee had said recently.
Though the cost of producing a generic medicine is very low in India, once they get branded, the cost increases by 4-16 times, Adsul said. “Branded drugs are usually sold at 4-16 times than the manufacturing costs. Besides, drugs meant for normal market would attract taxes. In Jan Aushadhi, medicines can be procured and sold at the same prices at which they are produced. We need awareness and publicity, so that people understand the relevance of Jan Aushadhi,” he said.
A health-care activist said Jan Aushadhi could not take off since not all prescribed drugs were available.
“In that sense, it really didn’t work. But what can work is a state-level procurement system, as in Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan. The central procurement system in these states ensures that most prescribed drugs are available at the cheapest prices, and so they are functioning well. The same concept can be emulated in other states as well,” he said.
However, the industry feels that, for Jan Aushadhi to be a success, the government needs to build confidence among patients and doctors.
D G Shah, secretary general, Indian Pharmaceutical Alliance (IPA), said, “In Jan Aushadhi, patients should have the confidence about the drugs used and their quality. Otherwise, even if the government would be selling at a very low price, people would still be buying from the open market.”
Shah feels bringing all drugs under price control could have a serious impact on the pharma industry.
“It may defeat the very purpose of providing medicines at affordable prices to the patients, because even in the DPCO, 2013, where some prices are very unreasonable, availability is an issue. If good-quality manufacturers find a certain price cap to be non-remunerative, over a period of time, they would curtail production and stop manufacturing that drug. Then patients would be left with only poor-quality products,” he said.
Shah said the Tamil Nadu model should be replicated by all other states. “The procurement standards, quality of drugs procured, distribution system – all have won the confidence of patients and doctors there. If drugs can be procured at a very low cost by states, it would also serve the purpose of promoting industry growth,” he said.